General faults `failure in leadership'

Author of prison report addresses Senate panel

Clashes with Rumsfeld aide

Crisis In Iraq

May 12, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Army general whose report on mistreatment of Iraqi detainees helped ignite an international firestorm clashed yesterday with a top civilian Pentagon official over whether guards at Abu Ghraib prison should have assisted military intelligence officers with interrogations.

Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba told Congress yesterday that "a failure in leadership" at the prison led military police to collaborate with intelligence officers and civilian contractors to abuse and humiliate prisoners there.

Taguba found that the MPs had been asked to "set the conditions" for questioning of detainees, a phrase that has been interpreted as softening up prisoners for questioning. He testified that cooperation between jailers and interrogators flies in the face of military regulations.

But Stephen A. Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, disagreed with Taguba, saying that Army doctrine allows intelligence personnel and military police guards to cooperate in handling detainees to elicit better information.

"The notion was that you had to have a ... cooperative attitude, team building - call it what you will - between the MPs and the MIs," Cambone said, referring to military police guards and military intelligence personnel.

Cambone is one of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's closest aides and wields great influence at the Pentagon. The holder of a Ph.D. in political science, he is the first-ever undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and his appointment was seen by many as an attempt by Rumsfeld to consolidate the Pentagon's control over intelligence programs.

In a day of probing hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Taguba and Cambone also differed sharply about who was in charge at Abu Ghraib when the abuses took place.

The general testified that a November 2003 order from Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, effectively put a military intelligence commander - Col. Thomas M. Pappas of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade - in control of the prison.

But Cambone testified that the order did not give military intelligence officers control over the guards.

"I do not believe that the order placing Colonel Pappas in charge gave him the authority to direct the [guards'] activities," said Cambone, turning pointedly to Taguba, who was seated next to him, as he challenged the general's assessment.

Taguba said the abuse had been perpetrated by soldiers who had "a lack of discipline, no training whatsoever, and no supervision." Their actions, depicted in graphic photographs that have been beamed worldwide, "were probably influenced by others - not necessarily directed by others," Taguba said.

Seven enlisted members of the Western Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company are the only persons facing criminal charges stemming from the alleged abuse. More senior soldiers were charged with administrative violations.

"At the end of the day, a few soldiers and civilians conspired to abuse and to conduct egregious acts of violence against detainees and other civilians, outside the bounds of international laws and the Geneva Convention," Taguba said.

Asked whether their conduct was the result of an order, he replied, "I believe that they did it of their own volition. ... We didn't find any order whatsoever, sir - written or otherwise - that directed them to do what they did."

The release of shocking video of the beheading of an American civilian by a group with ties to al-Qaida cast a pall over the hearings, as lawmakers and witnesses noted that the prison abuse scandal had increased the chances that Americans might be subjected to such violence.

In a related matter, Senate leaders struck a deal with the Pentagon to gain access for a three-hour period this afternoon to hundreds of photographs and videos graphically depicting the detainee mistreatment. Senators are to view the images in a secure, sound-proofed vault in the Capitol where they receive classified briefings and look at sensitive documents.

Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, employees gave embattled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld a standing ovation at a gathering where he said that the prisoner abuse scandal should not be allowed to define the way the U.S. military is seen by the world. An auditorium full of Defense Department workers rose to applaud after Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged them to thank Rumsfeld for his leadership.

Cambone echoed Rumsfeld's somber words to Congress last week, offering his "deepest apology" for the abuse.

"We are dismayed by what took place," Cambone said. "Iraqi detainees are human beings. They were in U.S. custody. We had an obligation to treat them right, and we didn't do that. That was wrong."

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